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Saturday, August 11, 2007

"France's Model Healthcare System"

Paul Dutton on healthcare in France:

France's model healthcare system, by Paul V. Dutton, Commentary, Boston Globe: Many advocates of a universal healthcare system in the United States look to Canada for their model. While the Canadian healthcare system has much to recommend it, there's another model that has been too long neglected. That is the healthcare system in France.

Although the French system faces many challenges, the World Health Organization rated it the best in the world in 2001 because of its universal coverage, responsive healthcare providers, patient and provider freedoms, and the health and longevity of the country's population. The United States ranked 37.

The French system is also not inexpensive. At $3,500 per capita it is one of the most costly in Europe, yet that is still far less than the $6,100 per person in the United States.

An understanding of how France came to its healthcare system would be instructive in any renewed debate in the United States.

That's because the French share Americans' distaste for restrictions on patient choice and they insist on autonomous private practitioners rather than a British-style national health service, which the French dismiss as "socialized medicine." Virtually all physicians in France participate in the nation's public health insurance, Sécurité Sociale.

Their freedoms of diagnosis and therapy are protected in ways that would make their managed-care-controlled US counterparts envious. However, the average American physician earns more than five times the average US wage while the average French physician makes only about two times ... average earnings of ... compatriots. But the lower income of French physicians is allayed by two factors. Practice liability is greatly diminished by a tort-averse legal system, and medical schools, although extremely competitive to enter, are tuition-free. ...

Nor do France's doctors face the high nonmedical personnel payroll expenses that burden American physicians. Sécurité Sociale has created a standardized and speedy system for physician billing and patient reimbursement...

It's not uncommon to visit a French medical office and see no nonmedical personnel. ... No back office army of billing specialists who do daily battle with insurers' arcane and constantly changing rules of payment.

Moreover, in contrast to Canada and Britain, there are no waiting lists for elective procedures and patients need not seek pre-authorizations....

How might the French case inform the US debate over healthcare reform? National health insurance in France stands upon two grand historical bargains -- the first with doctors and a second with insurers.

Doctors only agreed to participate ... if the law protected a patient's choice of practitioner and guaranteed physicians' control over medical decision-making. Given their current frustrations, America's doctors might finally be convinced to throw their support behind universal health insurance if it protected their professional judgment and created a sane system of billing and reimbursement.

French legislators also overcame insurance industry resistance by permitting the nation's already existing insurers to administer its new healthcare funds. Private health insurers are ... central to the system...

The French system strongly discourages the kind of experience rating that occurs in the United States, making it more difficult for insurers to deny coverage for preexisting conditions or to those who are not in good health. ...

Like all healthcare systems, the French confront ongoing problems. Today French reformers' number one priority is to move health insurance financing away from payroll and wage levies because they hamper employers' willingness to hire. Instead, France is turning toward broad taxes on earned and unearned income alike to pay for healthcare. ...

Perhaps it's time for us to take a closer look at French ideas about healthcare reform. They could become an import far less "foreign" and "unfriendly" than many here might initially imagine.

    Posted by on Saturday, August 11, 2007 at 03:33 AM in Economics, Health Care, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (3)  Comments (116)

          

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